The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

The Friends of Eddie Coyle.jpg

No, I am not finished. Look, I’m gettin’ old, you hear? Ageing low-level Boston gunrunner Eddie ‘Fingers’ Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is looking at several years of jail for a hold-up if he doesn’t funnel information to treasury agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) so he has to decide whether to turn stoolie. He buys guns from another gunrunner, Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), then gives him up to Foley, but it’s not enough. Conflicted, Eddie decides to also give up the gang of bank robbers he’s been supplying, only to find Foley already knows about them, and the mob believes Eddie snitched. The real permanent cop fink, barkeep Dillon (Peter Boyle) is called upon to render a service .. I wished I had a nickel for every name I got that was all right.  It could only be Robert Mitchum, couldn’t it, in this great gangster flick, one of the best films of the Seventies. Adapted from George V. Higgins’ classic novel, a gripping iteration of the Irish-American underworld given a stately interpretation by producer Paul Monash who knows just how to put the boot into that old saw about honour among thieves and how you really shouldn’t trust cops cos they’re just another gang.  There is nothing wrong with this film. It’s a snapshot of an anti-romantic world which we believe to be utterly true, and no higher compliment can you give a film. Mitchum is so good and gives such a committed performance as this determinedly anti-heroic loser that you cannot think of anyone else in the role. You believe a guy would shut a drawer on this bozo’s hand. The tone is just right, the danger palpable, the parameters real, the tension total. We’re looking at the world of Whitey Bulger and his gang in reality (Peter Boyle is Dillon, the avatar for Bulger, although Higgins denied the connection). Mitchum wanted to meet some of the real crims but was cautiously directed elsewhere although cast member Alex Rocco (he plays bank robber Jimmy Scalise) who had been associated with the Winter Hill gang and served a prison term during the Boston Irish Gang Wars in the Sixties prior to his name change and a Hollywood career may have made some introductions to the man who actually killed the prototype for Coyle. Let’s talk about screenwriter Monash who was a producer and TV scriptwriter (Peyton Place, among others) but really wanted to write a great novel. He was so good that Orson Welles tapped him to do rewrite work on Touch of Evil but for those of us who grew up in the Eighties he’s the guy who brought Salem’s Lot to the screen putting me at least behind a cushion and a couch to bridge the distance from the screen in order to somehow stop the fear (it didn’t); as well as a fantastic TVM remake of All Quiet on the Western Front, the series V and a very memorable film about Huey Long, Kingfish. Let’s not forget the wonderful British director Peter Yates who brings all his considerable weight and lightness of touch to this incredibly atmospheric production.  He’s made some of my favourite movies including Bullitt and Breaking Away, The Hot RockEyewitness and this. He directed my friend Shane Connaughton’s quasi-autobiographical Irish production The Run of the Country and was responsible for a fantastic mini-series of Don Quixote starring John Lithgow. Not only that, he managed the legendary racer Stirling Moss in his heyday. Good grief I love the man! This is great, resonant filmmaking, desperate, downbeat and convincing with an incredible cast, including my beloved Joe Santos, Margaret Ladd and Helena Carroll. Listen to that dialogue:  it’s rare, raw and relentless. With friends like these, well, you know.  I shoulda known better than to trust a cop. My own goddamn mother coulda told me that


El Dorado (1966)

El Dorado.jpg

Too mad to be scared and too sick to be worried about it.  Heartless tycoon Bart Jason (Edward Asner) hires a group of thugs to force the MacDonald family out of El Dorado so he can claim their land. J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) the town’s sheriff, is too deep in the throes of alcoholism to help the family. When Harrah’s friend, noble elder gunfighter Cole Thorton (John Wayne), learns of the predicament, he travels to El Dorado with his upstart friend young gambler Mississippi (James Caan), to help Harrah clean up in time for a shootout against Jason’s men and hole up in the local jail with the assistance of an ageing Indian Bull Harris (Arthur Hunnicutt) and the regular attendance of local medic Miller (Paul Fix)You made better sense when you were drinking. People forget that part of producer/director Howard Hawks’ uniqueness in the American canon is just that – he was American. So his choice of subjects and his treatment of them is particular to him but also emblematic of the State of the Union itself. His re-union with screenwriter Leigh Brackett (and what a thrill it was to discover this gifted author was a woman!) adapting Harry Brown’s 1960 novel The Stars in Their Courses years after their first collaboration on The Big Sleep (they also did Rio Bravo and Hatari!) sees him at seemingly his most relaxed in a smoothly entertaining meditation on ageing, friendship, loyalty and good old-fashioned decency, detonating notions of heroism with ideas of fellowship and community. With all that, there are two shots worthy of a Hitchcock suspenser; a great showcase for both up and coming Caan and some mighty women (Michele Carey as ‘Joey’ MacDonald, Charlene Holt as the saloon owner Maudie whom both Thornton and Harrah love); and a demonstration that there is nothing like great star performances to make a good screenplay work. Wayne even plays a character named after his favourite Fordian hero and falls in a door during the climactic shootout, done for. Would that we had their like nowadays. Biker movie fans will enjoy seeing Adam Roarke as one of the MacDonald brothers. With a score by Nelson Riddle and wonderful title paintings by Olaf Wieghorst (who appears as Swede Larsen) this is so perfect you’ll believe you’ve downed a fine wine. You’re too good to give a chance to

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

Heaven Knows Mr Allison.jpg

What do you see besides a big dumb guy? A Roman Catholic nun (Deborah Kerr) and a hard-bitten US Marine (Robert Mitchum) are stranded together on a Japanese-occupied island in the South Pacific during World War II. Under constant threat of discovery by a ruthless enemy, strafed by Japanese bombers, they hide in a cave and forage for food together. Their forced companionship and the struggle for survival forge a powerful emotional bond between them and then the Japanese arrive ... Perhaps God doesn’t intend me to take my final vows. Charles Shaw’s novel was adapted by director John Huston and veteran screenwriter John Lee Mahin, who declared this the favourite of all of his films. And what a smooth run it is, taking two established actors and playing with their personae in the way that Huston is reiterating the setup from The African Queen except here Bogie is the hollowed-out macho Mitchum, a much leaner proposition, and Hepburn is replaced by Kerr, replaying her Irish Catholic nun from Black Narcissus and giving her a comic twist (her casting maybe a nod to that beach scene in From Here to Eternity). Their flintiness is worn down by alcohol and great writing with just enough danger to make it a potent admixture. The cinematography by the great Oswald Morris is splendid and Georges Auric’s score is as jaunty as a sea shanty. Kerr and Mitchum have great chemistry and would be paired again in The Grass is GreenerOnly God knows what’ll happen to us

The Big Steal (1949)

The Big Steal poster

When is a film noir not a film noir? When it’s a fast and funny send-up shot in daylight by DoP Harry J. Wild on location in Mexico. The stars of Out of the Past/Build My Gallows High were reunited with that film’s writer Daniel Mainwaring (adapting from a story by Richard Wormser) and Don Siegel directed this with tongue firmly in cheek in and around Puebla. Mitchum is wrongly believed to be responsible for an army payroll robbery, he chases the culprit, while William Bendix chases him and Greer is the woman who becomes his sidekick. Ramon Navarro is the lazy local police chief and it all ends up in a noir-ish indoor shootout. Greer got the role after she rejected Howard Hughes in favour of marriage to someone else and it was originally thought to be a nothing role but she acquits herself sensationally. Both Jane Russell and Lizabeth Scott were removed as a result of Mitchum’s recent marijuana bust. Great fun, with some cracking lines and a keen sense of its own silliness. There were two more noir parodies, His Kind of  Woman, which also starred Mitchum in Mexico for RKO, and Beat the Devil, made by John Huston in Italy, but this is the original of the species. Step on it, Chiquita!

The Locket (1946)

The Locket poster 2.jpg

The Freuds have had a lot of influence on the 20th century and beyond, as a paranoid BBC documentary once informed us. Latterly it’s been in Mad Men-style advertising and PR (evil incarnate, n’est-ce pas?!) but first there was Sigmund and the vogue for psychoanalysis which spread like bindweed particularly in the US in the 1940s (as if WW2 wasn’t enough to handle). Obviously it was a narrative trope for screenwriters and filmmakers, looking to explain women to the world (if it has a brain AND a vagina that way psychosis lies, apparently – Sharon Stone once coined a phrase along those lines but it escapes me, sadly). A woman on the way to her wedding service is revealed to be a troublesome lying kleptomaniac who’s been married before. The story is revealed through three narrators, each of whom has a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. One is a psychiatrist ex-husband, the other a boyfriend. They are played by Brian Aherne and Robert Mitchum. She’s the final narrator and we see that she was wrongly accused of theft as a child. This appalling incident has had catastrophic consequences. The principal interest here is in the structure – even the title has symbolic import. The original screenplay by Norma Barzman, What Nancy Wanted, was discarded in favour of a rewrite by Sheridan Gibney and it’s directed by German ex-pat John Brahm, who did a nice line in nifty melodramas in the 40s. This is a revenge story brilliantly told in reverse – not easy to achieve. Good to see Mitchum as the former swain who cracks in this claustrophobic RKO production starring B-movie actress Laraine Day, on loan from MGM and giving the neurotic performance of her life.

Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past poster.jpg

One of the legendary film noirs, this RKO entry is simply superb. Robert Mitchum stars as Jeff, lured from a smalltown gas pump back into the world of gangsterism by a duplicitous Jane Greer and into the trap set by Kirk Douglas. Adapted by Daniel Mainwaring from his own novel, this was also known as Build My Gallows High. Exemplary direction by Jacques Tourneur and cinematography by Nicholas Musaraca, a classic and often described as the definitive film noir with Mitchum establishing a screen persona which embellished his performing style.